Los Angeles, in the last several years, has become something of a paradise for what I've taken to calling Chefs Without Portfolio, highly skilled young cooks, killing time between major projects, who have done things like reinvent gastropubs, run oversubscribed pop-ups, or open taquerias that honor the precepts of modernist cuisine.
CWPs — Ludo Lefebvre, Walter Manzke, and Jeremy Fox were among their ranks — are presumably OK with underachieving, because they know that stardom waits in the wings.
Timothy Hollingsworth is among the most prominent CWP bouncing around Los Angeles at the moment. He was not so long ago chef de cuisine at the French Laundry, and the designated United States competitor in the Bocuse d'Or culinary championships. This spring, he will be chef of the restaurant in the upcoming Broad Museum. He is a highbrow in the kitchen, legendary for his French technique.
So although he was born in Texas, and his name sounds as if it could belong to a white-hat country music singer, the last place you might expect to find him is running a barbecue pit in the San Fernando Valley.
But there he is, behind the stoves at the new Barrel & Ashes in Studio City, supervising long-smoked brisket, spareribs and pulled pork, all of it properly free range or certified Angus beef. (Rory Hermann, late of Bouchon, is here too.)
You can get pork rinds if you want, or hoe cake, or Frito pie served right in the bag. Barrel & Ashes was slapped together on the site of the Italianate Spark Woodfire Grill, also owned by Bill Chait, so presumably the permits, the crew, and much of the equipment were still intact.
There are barbecue-friendly cocktails from the ubiquitous Julian Cox, whom you know from Rivera and Picca among other places, and the requisite list of craft beers. Barrel & Ashes was jammed the day it opened. There is banana pudding for dessert.
But barbecue is all about the meat, no matter how barrel-aged the cocktails may be. And in Barrel & Ashes' earliest weeks the meats were somewhat oversmoked — tender brisket is one thing, but spoon-tender brisket quite another, and spareribs aren't literally supposed to fall off the bone.
Are classically trained chefs and barbecue a felicitous combination? They could be; Boneyard Bistro down the street, run by a Charlie Trotter's alum, is still going strong. And chances are pretty good that Hollingsworth and Hermann will get it right.